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You have to work very hard to eat badly, but the food is probably the least interesting thing about the country at this point. I'll try to organise my thoughts and reviews in the next day or two. May stray from the food reviews a bit to talk about generally getting around and stuff -- I think it would be helpful for anyone thinking of visiting. 


And it is worth a visit. As maddening as it is, it is probably as unlike anywhere else as you could ever be. 

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I guess I should start with this: the airport has been improved considerably, however assume clearing passport control will take at least 2 hours unless you have Lebanese citizenship*. Go to the bathroom on the plane, especially if you have kids. The entire line at passport control will keep an eye on your kids though, if they end up walking off to sit somewhere. 


Assume at least another hour to get from the airport into Beirut, even though it is only 10 km. Assume you will be ripped off by the taxi driver -- even if you are a local -- unless you have been smart enough to arrange a pickup ahead of time. 


*actually I have this but could not locate my passport, and also didn't want to waste an entire day going through Baladiyat to renew it. What is both good and bad about Lebanon is that laws are merely suggestions. I was given no problems even after it was clear to the immigration officer that I was a Lebanese citizen entering with a US passport. They gave my brother more of a hard time -- he has a Western first name, occupation musician   :rolleyes:  -- but eventually let him through as well, only about a 15 minute additional intra-officer discussion. 

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The traffic is probably where you are most aware (as a visitor) that the country's population increased by more than 25% practically overnight. It was always crazy but now it's basically a country wide stand-still. Maybe there are fewer accidents now since barely anyone is moving, would be interesting to see numbers. 

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Tripoli goes completely unmentioned in the Monocle guide. Not that there aren't interesting things to see, including 13th century souks, a 12th century citadel, and a vast fairground built by Oscar Niemeyer in the 1970s. But Tripoli is also a city with an overwhelming majority Sunni presence, as well as the only sizeable Alawite community in Lebanon. The Syrian war exacerbated what was always a tense coexistence and there was a real fear Isis would make inroads into the city. 


Interestingly on this visit the city seemed much less conservative than on previous trips. Conversations with locals supported my impression. There were quite a few local women without scarves in the old souk, and we didn't get a second glance. There were actual out in the open public BARS. Granted in the mostly orthodox christian section of the city where we decided to stay, but still. BARS. Those didn't exist even during the war where the city was much less religious. 


Before I talk about the food, I should mention one stall in the souk was actually selling Isis headbands, like the black ones with the writing? Alongside fake Chanel shower slides and "Adibas" sneakers. Welcome to Lebanon. 

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This is wonderful. It's also wonderful to see you just can't quit Brūle

Other way around man. He’s stalking me. What person under 70 without kids hangs out in Merano? 


Thanks for the kind words guys. I've had a lot of later evening due to work related and other stuff, so has been hard to find time to think about text. More coming very soon. 

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This isn't what I did this time, but here could be an interesting walk: hail a "servees" taxi1 and tell him to drop you off at souk el haraj. He will pull up to what looks like an apocalypse on a hill but he will point you to a doorway in the opposite direction that leads into the souks. Take GPS with you, and just walk around. Go early so you can buy ka'ak from a guy with a pushcart and a charcoal grill. I never realised this until much later, but this is a micro local product. You can't get  this particular kind even outside of the old part of Tripoli. Ask for it with cheese (jibneh). Disregard my aunts' fear of listeria. People here survive by the quality of their business, my impression is they really take care. 


Check out khan-el-khayattin (Taylors' row),  souk el Dahab (the jewellers souk), khan el saboon (soap makers khan). Continue through souk el Attarin (herb and fragrance souk) and eventually you'll get to the butchers, fishmongers, veg & fruit sellers etc. Not as pretty but interesting. You could pass by Hammam el Nour (we were just able to walk in unattended). The mansouri mosque is a quiet spot but women will need to cover up (can rent from the gate.)


Walk towards the Sultan Abdel-Hamid clocktower. This is probably what downtown Beirut would look like if it hadn't been turned into Disneyland. You are ready for lunch, and not far from Akra, the best hummus place in town. Actually hummus is fine, but since you're here get the Fatteh, because where else? After that, dessert can be had at Rafaat Hallab, the very first of what is now a super popular chain across the Middle East, and the best arabic sweets period. (NOT a home bias here ;) ) My favourite are znoud-el-sit, which do not exist outside the Lebanon for whatever reason, at least not in this quality. These look like egg rolls, fried flaky pastry, but with clotted cream  (kashta) inside, and candied orange blossom petals on top, drizzled with syrup. They don't travel at all. Here's a photo. Goes extremely well with a Lebanese coffee. 


By now you will be feeling very, very full. Hail another servees to the Maa'rad (The Oscar Niemeyer fairgrounds) 2 and walk off the calories. 




1. recognisable by the red license plates. Even more recognisable by the fact that you can't walk anywhere without every one of them honking at you and yelling "servees?" out the window. Here's a good link explaining how this works. 

2. I learned how to drive in the parking lot. 

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If you do end up visiting, I would strongly suggest you stay in El-Mina as its a bit more laid back. In the meantime there are even a couple of bars in the old Mina souk. (It used to be a separate city, still a separate municipality.)


We basically watched champions' league at Mike's Pub and Lounge every single evening. The bartenders are super nice, mix really well, give you lupini beans to snack on (you have to skin them, how do people not know this) and one of them does seriously amazing card tricks. The bar food is also really good. All around recommend! 


El Mina has lots of good places to eat near the shore. Abou Fadi is an institution for octopus sandwiches. There is a really good ice cream place attached to a place that grills meat right behind the Oman ben AlKattab mosque, but I can't find it on google. Apparently this is where most people get their parties catered from. This ice cream was my favourite this time even though there are more famous places. I think it would be hard to eat really badly anywhere in this neighbourhood really. 


Yeah. Not much more to say about Tripoli...

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Baalbek is an extensive Roman temple complex that is worth the trip. You can look up the details on wikipedia. What you can't look up is that this is pretty much 35 km from the Syrian border and has always been Hizbollah/Amal territory, so always an interesting visit. 


First time I came here was during the war. I was too young to know the particulars but it was the first time it was possible to do the trip. I do remember reaching a checkpoint at the top of the mountain occupied by a lonely Syrian soldier. The guy was basically like what the f**k are you doing here. There were hashish plants as far as the eye could see. 


The last time I came here there were Hizbollah flags everywhere. 


This time I only saw one Hizbollah related sign and it looked like it was from 10 years ago. But, a bunch of kids at the Temple site tried to sell us Hizbollah t-shirts. ("Hizbollah souvenir?") 


Other impressions: a lot of super ugly buildings have gone up in the meantime. This used to be fairly unspoilt land, now its a mix of oligarch style mansions (on the way up the mountain) and sloppily constructed concrete structures (asylum seekers as opportunity) on the way down. 


Baalbek town, including the souk adjacent to the ruins -- is hearteningly relatively unchanged. 


The thing to eat here is Sfiha Baalbakia -- a square pastry with minced lamb, onions and tomato. Goes great with Ayran or yogurt. Local friends recommended a roadside place to get them on the way over, here. Lots of families were picking up packages to take home. Actually if you have more time and fewer kids what you should really do is have a three hour meal at one of those places by the river in Zahle, but maybe next time. Also most of the Lebanese wineries are in this region. We didn't do that this time either...

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Beirut is so well covered in the press that I can't really give much new information. Maybe I would just mention that our favourite meal was at Seza, in Mar Mikhael. Seza is an Armenian restaurant. While I know a few things from that cuisine, a lot was new to me. It was warm enough to sit on the porch, which is lovely. 


They have a standard tasting menu but it contained too much we weren't into (=lots o' carbs), and missed a lot of things we wanted. In the end including way too much Arak even by North German standards we ended up spending 1 to 2 USD per person more than the menu for a YUGE amount of food. 


Cold starters: 

a garlicky tomato salad, which added a nice brightness to the rest of the meal. 

"itch", a bulgar salad with onions, tomato and various spices. 

raw kibbeh with a pile of chopped herbs in the centre of the plate. Quite possibly the best version I've ever had, almost whipped consistency


Hot starters: 

chicken livers in pomegranate molasses, excellent version (I make this at home sometimes.) 

hummus with awarma, which is basically lamb confit-ed in lamb tail fat. The lamb confit easily blew all other versions I've had out of the water. Consistency like well made carnitas. 

A sausage dish. I thought it would be something else, but ended up being similar to sliced chorizo in a tomato sauce. OK. 



fried fish -- cut into crosswise sections, super simple but perfectly executed. What the kids let us try was delicious. Served with brilliant garlicky fried potato cubes. (And I typically don't like much garlic..) They also made a portion of potatoes without the garlic for the kids, without us asking. Service! 

Meatballs in a sour cherry sauce. 

Manti, again a category killer. Best I've had. 


Desserts were on the house. IIRC there was rice pudding, a baklava type thing and I forget what the third was. Needless to say we were pretty full that that point. 


Verdict? All but maybe the sausage I would order again. Three of the dishes were the best versions I've had anywhere. How often does that happen? 


Here's a blog with pics. 

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  • 3 years later...

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